Bench techniques for shooting small groups

On any visit to a rifle range anywhere in the world, the first thing you notice are the shooting benches. That is because they all have them and are one of the first things installed when a new shooting range is built. This is the shooting position that is considered by all to be the most accurate.

It’s also the easiest for the shooter. Most people can’t hit the broad side of a barn standing and us older guys prefer to sit on a bench or stool rather than exert the effort lay down for a prone shooting position. Sitting on the ground, believe it or not, is very difficult and takes a lot of practice in order to become consistent.

All of these reasons is why shooting from a bench is what 99 percent of all shooters do, but many don’t realize that there proper techniques to being accurate in all positions, even shooting from a bench. Without an understanding and use of these techniques, optimum accuracy can never be attained.

What not to do when shooting from a bench

Every time I think I’ve seen it all, I see a shooter doing something new to try a support his rifle while zeroing the scope. From 2x4s to support the fore arm, to a rolled up jacket, to ammo boxes, to a balled up fist, none of which are doing anything to promote accuracy and actually causing ammo to be completely wasted and a correct zero to never to be obtained.

I have seen many who are shooting using one of these rifle support methods and the barrel resting directly on support device. This kill accuracy by affecting barrel harmonics. I have actually seen a person show up at the range with his scope duct taped to the rifle because he didn’t know any better.

It takes all kinds to make a world I guess. In the field, you might be forced to use anything that is available for support to make a shot but when zeroing, seeking ultimate accuracy, or shooting for tiny groups at the range, there is no reason to do any of these things.

Use a proper rest

Beginners or those with less experience who are trying to zero their rifle or are shooting for enjoyment should probably use either a pair of sandbags or a sled. Some ranges will actually have these items on hand for shooters to use. Sandbags are very simple and when set correctly allow the rifle to rest, with no effort from the shooter, on target.

A sled is another tool that holds the rifle steady but allows easier micro adjustments to aim point. The sled is mean’t for shooters who are not pro’s. It will provide a stable platform with less technique but also delivers energy from the shot more to the rifle, instead of the shooter’s shoulder. On big bores over time, this can have a negative affect on the scope performance.

Serious bench rest shooters will spend more than the normal rifle shooter on their rest. They range from somewhat expensive to very expensive. They are usually made from titanium or aluminum, can be adjusted coarsely in any direction and even have a hydraulic equipped adjustment for fine tuning aim.

They can run into the 4 figure cost range but produce outstanding results which are necessary to win bench rest competitions. Whether you are a pro, serious competitor, or just a weekend shooter you should be using one of these tools when shooting for accuracy at the range.

You must have a stable platform

If the shooting bench you are using wobbles due to a short leg, flexes, or gives for any reason, you can forget being accurate. Don’t use it. You will be better off shooting prone or bringing your own stable bench. A platform that moves in any way, no matter how much, will cause tension.

Tension will cause body movement to compensate for the platform movement and result in poor accuracy.

Properly align the rifle, rest, and your body

Getting everything aligned so there is no tension or stress in your body is the result we are after here. If you have to use a muscle or angle your body to move and hold the cross hair on target you are not aligned properly.

Position the rifle on the rest correctly

All rests whether sandbags or sled, should support the rifle stock, not the barrel. This was mentioned earlier but is worth mentioning again. The barrel should not touch anything. Doing so will disrupt the harmonics in the barrel during the shot to the point that it may change point of impact completely and cause the groups to open up.

Rifle sling stud

The rifle sling stud has the ability to throw shots slightly off target. When the rifle recoils – even rimfires have a little recoil – it should slide on the rest straight back along the axis of the bore.

Proper resistance on the rifle

Resistance on the rifle must be applied when bench shooting. With no resistance shots will be errant and groups will be larger than they should be. The right way to apply this resistance is with the shoulder. The right hand grip and shoulder work together to apply the correct amount of resistance.


Shooting from a bench accurately requires a little different right hand grip than any other position. The thumb should be on the top or right side of the stock, for a right handed shooter, to prevent torquing the rifle. The last 3 fingers should be on the grip and serve only one purpose – to hold the stock where it is so the left shoulder can apply slight resistance.

The left hand is on the rear bag and can be used to squeeze the bag slightly for elevation changes but moving the bag forward or backward on the stock accomplishes the same thing with not tension in the body. Again, tension is not good, even in the hand.

One other technique, if the rifle is lighter than 7 pounds or so, is to place the left hand on top of the scope with just slight pressure. This helps to hold a light rifle down during recoil if the rest allow micro fine tuning to get the crosshairs on target.

When using this technique remember to apply slight pressure to the top of the scope, too much pressure causes tension.

Stable cheek weld

A firm cheek weld is a component of good shooting no matter what the position. The rifle stock must be almost perfect for the face to attain this without introducing a stress into the body.

This is why most competition stocks are equipped with adjustable cheek risers. The shooter should be able to close his eyes, get into shooting position, open his eyes and have a perfectly centered sight picture with no parallax. The amount of pressure applied should be firm but no so much as to cause the neck muscles to have tension.

Aim small, miss small

Most people think this saying originated from the movie “American Sniper” but this saying has been around for years. Most take it for granted but it is actually the best shooting advice you can get. Don’t aim to hit the bullseye, aim to hit a flea in the middle of the bullseye. Guaranteed to make your groups smaller.